Event Marketing: How to Create a Media Plan for Promotion

by | Nov 8, 2020 | Marketing Essays

My new talk — virtual or in-person — on how event marketers and promoters can use the latest data to create an effective media plan.


Online or offline? Broad reach or individual targeting? Personalization or no personalization? For effective event promotion, the answer for all options is simply “yes” because it depends on the specific tactic and channel within a plan. In this webinar, Samuel Scott, a global marketing keynote speaker and The Promotion Fix columnist for The Drum, will use the latest research to show you how to create a multi-channel event marketing plan from the top of the funnel to the bottom.

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In 2019, I spoke at Marketing Festival in Prague, one of the largest marketing conferences in Europe. It was so successful that for 2020, they wanted to go even bigger. So, they created that brand advertisement that you just saw for future attendees that was amazingly successful at generating interest. Then, of course, the coronavirus happened. But that is a topic for another talk.

So, in that context, what can we learn from that ad? I see, for example, many event promoters today facing many difficult questions when it comes to the media we use. Should we get quick sales or build a brand? Should we be online-only or does traditional media still have a role? Should we target people individually or reach all potential attendees from the entire broad industry? Well, I will answer those questions today.

I will start by showing you, with examples, the basic process that media planners have always used for the benefit of those who are new to the industry. And then I will present a general plan that one would create based on the research. But then, I will go deep into the pros and cons of the various new media that exist today to highlight a new way that planners should approach media for event promotion or anything else.

But first, a brief introduction. After careers in both journalism and marketing, today I write The Promotion Fix column on marketing and media for The Drum and travel around the world to speak about what I report. I use my dual experiences to discuss the marketing industry with the mindset of a neutral journalist with nothing to sell except his ideas.

So, let’s begin. Now, I am sure that the biggest question on your minds is, “How can we get more people to buy tickets to our events?”

But to maximize overall long-term effectiveness, we need to start further back. At strategy, at the beginning.

You see, we hear a lot of inaccurate terminology in marketing. When people talk about “advertising strategy” or “digital strategy” or “Facebook strategy,” that is either complete nonsense or actually referring to tactical plans at the end.

Strategy consists of studying and diagnosing a problem, creating an overall strategic policy, and then implementing a tactical plan.

In the marketing world, marketers often discuss only the last part — promotion and communications. But if the diagnosis is wrong, everything afterwards will fail. If the strategic policy is wrong, the tactical plan will fail. And if the product, price, and place are bad, then the promotion at the very end will never succeed.

Here’s a non-marketing example that I once heard from Mark Ritson. Say you’re a doctor. Diagnosis is determining the disease. The strategic policy is deciding the general course of action. The tactical plan is the specific treatment.

Say a patient has chest pain. If the doctor gets the diagnosis wrong, nothing else will matter. But say he gets it right. The next step might be to determine whether medication or diet and exercise is the best general course of action. If he chooses wrong, the specific treatment will not matter. But say he’s right to choose medication. The tactical plan will then be which medication to prescribe.

Here’s another example: The story of David and Goliath in the Jewish and Christian Bible. David was a weak, skinny kid. Goliath was a giant. So, David had a problem when the two were going to fight.

But David was smart. His diagnosis? Goliath was big but slow. He could only kill you with his sword if he got close. David’s strategic policy? Stay nimble, stay far away, and use his sources of leverage and advantage: his skill with a sling. David’s tactical plan? Kill Goliath from far away with his sling without ever getting close. And as we know, David won.

Now, when you talk to clients or superiors in the marketing world, you often want to keep it simple by just saying that your work will simply “sell more stuff.”

But for the marketers and communicators who are doing the actual work, it is a lot more complicated because selling more stuff depends on a lot of different factors. The way to “sell more stuff” will be different for everyone. So, media planning never starts with questions such as, “Which media should I use?” or “Should I use television or online display ads?” Planning starts with a marketing problem that needs to be solved.

In this talk, I will first summarize each of these steps in marketing and then show how to use them when creating professional media plans.

Please note: I will include many informational images and charts. But don’t worry about saving them now. I can send you this entire slide deck after the talk is over. Just contact me via the details shown at the beginning and end.

So, let’s start at the beginning.

In marketing, here are some examples of problems that can occur. Sales are declining in this region for this brand of ours. Consumers in this country like this competitor brand more because they say it tastes better. The newest brand in the national market has reduced its price below ours. Or people are buying tickets to this competing event and not our event.

Here are some types of diagnosis you can do to both determine the problem and then help to identify the objective and solution.

First, SWOT analyses, customer-facing research, and market intelligence can give you the lay of the land and suggest a particular domain of action. This talk will focus mainly on promotion and communications, but I want to note here that this entire process can give you many insights into positioning as well as the other three Ps of product, price, and place.

Now, positioning is not something you do to the product. It’s what you do to the mind of the customer. You want them to perceive you in a certain way. And market research can show you how to distinguish yourself as a niche company that owns a specific corner of the market in a way that is important to your target audience.

And then when it comes to creating a strategic policy, the two most important things are your potential leverage and sources of competitive advantage. Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman put it this way. Say in the American sport of baseball, you have a player who is a great pitcher but a horrible batter. Should the coach further improve his pitching or his batting?

Strategy 101 says that you focus on your strengths, whatever they are. So, pitching. Become the best pitcher you can be so that no one else will be better than you. And now think about how that applies to your company or event.

Here’s a personal example. There are many marketing speakers in the world. I position myself through this guiding policy: I am an objective trade journalist who writes and speaks about marketing with nothing to sell except my ideas. In my experience, event planners welcome that objectivity and the fact that I am not shilling for anything.

And you can also use the diagnosis stage to inform the product, price, and place. Take events. What do people like and not like about your event compared to the competition? The product is typically the experience — the speakers, parties, and networking. And price? If you’re charging too much, you might sell fewer tickets. But if you charge too little, you might lose credibility, not be taken seriously, and sell no tickets at all.

And place has meant the location of the event. People might like one type of city or venue more than others.

But today, there are a whole host of issues regarding virtual and hybrid events that need to be evaluated. Frankly, we’re all a little in the dark because this experience is new to all of us. It will be interesting to see what works and what does not. I hope to explore this opportunity with all of you as everything unfolds.

Now, after the initial work has been done, the next step is to determine and state the objectives. In media planning, this might involve determining which market segments are most important, how many people in those segments should be reached, and where advertising should be concentrated in general.

The objectives form the basis for the media plan, which is a series of actions selected from several possible alternatives to best achieve the media objectives.

Here are some examples of objectives:

To increase share in an expanding segment of the market. To increase sales by 5 percent. To acquire a 20 percent share of market the first year after a national introduction, 25 percent the second year, and 30 percent the third year. To introduce the product so that we have at least 5 percent share in each sales division. To increase the overall visibility of the product name against the competitors. To sell a certain number of tickets.

Now, after you have done the strategic research and identified the problem and objective, it is time to do the media research.

The prior steps should have determined your goal and WHAT MESSAGE you should communicate to achieve that goal. The brunt of the rest of the presentation after this introduction will focus on WHERE and HOW you should communicate that message.

So, the next stage is to research how your particular target audience uses media. Here are just a few examples of companies that sell audience and media consumption data to marketers of all types: Nielsen, Comscore, Mediamark, Simmons, SRDS, and trade publications such as The Drum and Adweek.

Here is an example of what you will find based on research, say, on American golfers for a company that wants to sell golf clubs. The practices and approaches that I describe are relevant for all businesses, events or otherwise.

The important thing is to look at the index on the right. It’s based on an average of 100. You should use which demographic cohorts have an index higher than 100 because those are the people most likely to be interested in your product or event. Here, the best demographic is men between the ages of 55 and 74 who are college graduates and earn more than $100k per year.

Then, you should also look at which media your target audience consumes. Here are golf events on TV.

Here are other sports on TV.

Here are magazines.

Here are websites.

So, you know what media the audience consumes. But where should you prioritize your spend? Here the research shows, for example, that the competition focuses the vast majority of their budgets on magazines and network TV. For share of voice reasons that I will address later, you should probably do the same.

So, after the first bit of research, you know how to target and what media to use. But how much should you spend? Of course, you can spend $1 or $1 million. To answer this, you first need to look at competitor spend. Here’s the golfer example again.

The #1 brand spends $12.4m on advertising per year. There is $153m spent on the entire category, so that means the category leader has a share of voice of 8%. I will highlight why that is important later in this talk when I go deep into media selection. It is important that marketers have a say in the size of their budgets instead of just getting a random number from the c-suite.

But when you determine how much money to spend, you also need to think about your objectives and your overall strategy. If you are planning a business event, for example, you might find that there are 500,000 people in your country who may want to attend. If your media selection reaches, say, 50% of that audience, will that be enough? You will need to look at past performance data to see how many people you need to reach to sell a given number of tickets.

This is a short talk, so I will leave this slide, among others, here for your future review. It goes into various types of media objectives and the resulting approaches that you might want to use.

So, at this point, for the example of golfers, here is a general plan that research could determine.

Use television as the primary medium to create awareness. Target men 35 to 64 years of age. Use golf and weekend sports programs on network and cable television to achieve broad national reach of target regular golfers. Concentrate introductory weight in February and March to lead the golf season. Purchase TV golf tournament sponsorships to achieve high frequency during the introduction.

Provide sustaining support in cable and network weekend sports programs throughout the warm-weather golf season. Use golf-oriented consumer magazines and selective newsweeklies to communicate the technical advantages of Power Flight golf clubs and to maintain awareness during the holiday season. Use our website to provide additional technical details about the Power Flight clubs. Highlight the website’s Internet address in print and TV.

But, how do we get to that point?

Now, onto the main section of this talk — choosing the media that you should use based on the latest marketing research.

I will begin with a little theory. There have always been two main advertising tactics: brand advertising and direct response. Brand advertising builds brands among all potential category buyers for long-term benefit. Direct response, or direct marketing, gets immediate, trackable responses from targeted people.

The benefits of brand advertising are that it is creative and memorable. It’s subtle and not too annoying. People tolerate brand advertising because it is sometimes even entertaining. But the negatives of brand advertising are that it can be expensive and not quickly and easily measurable. And that rubs a lot of online marketers the wrong way because they are used to immediate, measurable results in some dashboard.

One benefit of direct response is that it can be cheaper. Just think about how often we see online marketers wondering how to do “quick, cheap hacks” for something. Direct marketing is also trackable in a way that is impossible to do in brand advertising or PR campaigns. But the most important negative aspect of direct marketing is that it is annoying. When a campaign is cheap, the ads will also be cheap. People tolerate brand advertising but hate direct marketing. And that negative impression, so to speak, is part of the negative aspects of online advertising.

Now, over the past 20 years, online marketing has gone all-in on direct marketing. Most online ads today are actually direct response and not advertising. Ad tech such as Google and Facebook is all the rage, but those platforms are largely just new ways to do direct marketing.

Now, let’s meet Les Binet and Peter Field. They are two Brits who are probably the smartest marketing academics in the world. They have released many insightful reports based on IPA data from ad campaigns in the UK going back many years.

Some of their important findings compare the results of brand advertising and direct response. Every time that you do a direct response or sales activation campaign, you will see a quick spike in revenue — the line in yellow. But you always hit an upper limit. You don’t see the results of brand advertising — the line in brown — for months or even years. When you add the two lines together, you will see how both brand advertising and direct response together lead to the best long-term results because activation brings quick but small results while advertising brings slow but large results.

Here is a metaphor.

Direct response is picking the fruit — those people have grown, are ripe, are down in the funnel, and ready to buy. Brand advertising is watering the tree so that more fruit will grow in the future. As Rory Sutherland has said, direct response tells people what to do so they will buy today, and brand advertising keeps products top of mind and tells people what to think so they will buy tomorrow.

In Binet and Field’s research, to build a brand for the long term and get sales in the short term, they found that the best tactical media spend allocation on average is 60% to brand and 40% to direct response and sales activation.

Now, here is something completely new that few have seen. LinkedIn commissioned Binet and Field to do the same research for B2B. They exclusively released it to me for my column in The Drum. As I said, the overall average is 60 / 40 in favor of brand. But the best mix in financial services, for example, is 80 / 20 for brand. But it’s more even and a little opposite in B2B — 54 / 46 for activation.

Remember: Many events are B2B and should keep that even spread in mind.

But for any brand, the most effective practice is to spend more and more on brand and less and less on activation as time goes on. If anyone would like ​to see ​my column with all of th​is new, unprecedented and​ major research, just email me and I’ll send you the link.

But despite the importance of building a brand over the long-term, Google and Facebook are still pushing us to track people, collect their personal data, and hit them with cheap direct response. They want the world of Minority Report.

Now, a lot of marketers watch that and think, “Wow! When can we do that?” But remember: The 99.9% of people who are not marketers saw Tom Cruise getting scanned for ads and were horrified. Remember, the world in Minority Report is a dystopia. It is a reflection of everything in the world going to hell — including the marcom.

Because if you ask the average marketer, they will say that we should be digital-first or performance-first or social-first or first-first or whatever. But people who say that live in a bubble of their own creation.

Here, my goal is not to advocate for any specific media in event marketing. My point is to show that we should approach mediums skeptically while being aware of all their pros and cons.

Now, say you spend eight hours every day on social media for your company. Everything you read is about social media. Every conference you attend discusses social media. You would have tunnel vision and think that social media is the only medium that matters. Other channels would be the furthest things from your mind – and you would start to assume that everyone else thinks and acts the same way. Well, I have some bad news: You and me and every other marketer are not normal.

93% of marketers use LinkedIn. Among normal people? 14%. 81% of marketers use Twitter. Normal people? 22%. 68% of marketers use Instagram. Normal people? 18%. Remember: The first rule in marketing is that we are not the market. Do the research and be truly customer-facing because the best use of social media might just be selling something to marketers.

Because contrary to popular opinion, traditional media is not dead — far from it. According to Nielsen, the average adult in the US spends half of his media consumption per day on live TV and radio — what you see in the blue and purple on the left.

And despite all of the new platforms over the past ten years, the number of hours of TV consumed on a TV has remained flat at around 3.75 per day.

Moreover, live TV consists of 40% of all video consumed in the US. YouTube is second with 16%, and Facebook has a paltry 2%.

What does that mean? Pivotal Research Group found that Americans, on average, watch eight times more TV than YouTube videos. Clearly, TV is not dead and we should not be online-only or even online-first. We have to be smarter than that.

Because more and more chief marketers today are realizing that traditional media is still important and that being online-first is not the best answer.

Which makes broadly targeted advertising on TV extremely effective. Here is the best ad from 2018’s American football Super Bowl. If you don’t know, Tide is a soap detergent for washing your clothes.

Of course, not all media is created equal. Some channels are better at doing certain things than others. Let’s take a look.

TV is the media most likely to make people laugh.

Why is TV so effective? Compared to YouTube and Facebook, TV is the media where the most people watch the ads actively. On Facebook, almost all people see the ads passively. And YouTube is the media where the most people do not see the ads at all. If I’m listening to music on YouTube, I’ve got the sound on while I’m doing something else and not even looking at the browser window with YouTube.

So, most people actively watch ads on TV, and it is also the media where the ads fill 100% of the screen. YouTube is 30% and Facebook is 10%. Don’t discount the effect of screen coverage.

Because of all of this, we see that running an ad on YouTube produces short-term advertising strength of 116 out of a basis of 100. Facebook, 118. But TV is 144.

And speaking of making you laugh.

But of course, it would be foolish to spend money on only television and ignore all other media.

The age-old advertising question: Is it better to show an ad once to two people or twice to one person? The best research yesterday and today has always concluded that the answer is the former. Each additional time that a person sees an ad, the persuasive power decreases. It has a diminishing effect. Reach is much more important than frequency and is the primary way that brands grow.

But of course, again, we want to build brands tomorrow but also sell stuff today. So, should we target individuals or all potential category buyers? Yes. Should we use direct response or brand advertising? Yes. Should we think in the short-term or long-term? Yes.

We have a set of two goals that need to work together, so we need two strategies that are completely different but still occurring at the same time. For each goal, we need to think about our tactical media mixes because — again — different channels are better at different things. To build long-term brands, you need broad reach and mental availability that are driven by emotion. For direct response and sales activation, you need to target the people lowest in the funnel with rational information and communicate physical availability.

It’s important to note that many in the B2B and online worlds especially think only about the right and never about the left.

In advertising, your share of voice is what percent of the entire category spend is your spend. As I mentioned, the category leader’s share of voice is 8%. Now, of course, your market share is what percentage of the entire category’s sales are yours.

They key to growing a long-term brand over time is to maximize what is called excess share of voice (or ESOV). If your market share is 5% but your share of voice is 8%, then your ESOV is positive 2%. Here is the rule: The higher your ESOV, the more your brand will grow in the category. You need spend enough at least to sure that your share of voice is greater than your market share.

Now, here’s the big picture. According to the IPA in the UK, ever since the Great Recession in 2008, the advertising industry has forgotten about ESOV. Marketers have become focused only on the short-term and direct response or what is called “performance marketing” today.

Even though the advertisers who maintained the greatest ESOV benefited the most during and after the 2008 economic downturn. That is something that everyone should remember during the coronavirus recession today. Share of voice is more important in terms of brand advertising spend rather than on direct response or performance spend.

Here’s the reason: Cutting brand ad spend is the worst thing you can do in a recession because the long-term purpose is to keep you remembered in peoples’ heads. If you stop spending during a recession, then people will forget that you exist and will be less likely to buy from you when the recession is over.

Now, here is Binet and Field’s plot of how each media performs. At one end, sponsorships are not good for immediate activation but they deliver the greatest long-term brand effects. Online video, news coverage, TV, and radio are similar. But closer to the activation end of the spectrum, we see print media inserts, SMS, e-mail, paid search, and social media.

Here is a similar map from the company Analytic Partners. Short-term efficiency is the X axis, and long-term efficiency is the Y axis. But remember that efficiency is not the same as effectiveness.

Analytic Partners also shows whether a given media is best for short-term or long-term results. Short-term is red. Long-term is blue.

So, what should we do? Of course, every company and brand should have a different media mix. For large consumer brands, Binet and Field found that TV plus online video leads to greater business effects and market share gains than using either one alone.

Analytic Partners also found that combining offline and online leads to the greatest benefits — and that combining television specifically with online video maximizes results virtually in every industry.

For events, this can also be the case. After all, people can learn something at home for free by reading articles or watching videos. But events, in the end, sell emotional experiences. That is why people attend them. And TV and online video are the best ways to communicate the emotional experiences that you sell at the top of the funnel. Then, of course, you might want to use direct response through email, Google Ads, or something else at the bottom of the funnel to sell tickets.

When it comes to a media plan, some mediums are better than others. For example, if a product requires demonstration, TV is best. If an ad must be shown in high-fidelity color, magazines or newspaper supplements might be best. If you want trackable, bottom of the funnel conversions, then online mediums are best.

Now, every class of media has pros and cons. Here, I will briefly highlight these slides that list their attributes. Again, do not worry about saving these right now during this talk. I will be happy to send you this presentation.

So, here are newspapers and magazines.

Newspaper supplements and TV.

Cable TV and infomercials.

Radio and online display advertising.

Mass transit media and out of home.

Direct mail and outdoor.

Paid search and mobile.Each traditional medium is best for various specific purposes such as building authority, appearing larger than life, having sex appeal, and so on. For event planners, the best media in descending order is TV, newspapers, radio, magazines, and then outdoor at the bottom.

Now, in general, I agree with Nielsen’s new CMO Report, which found that traditional media is best for brand building at the top of the funnel, and online media is best for direct response and sales activation at the bottom of the funnel.

Now, how do we apply this? Let’s go back to Binet and Field’s research. We see that long-term brand building and short-term direct response are two very different things. So, for event promoters or anyone else, you should use all of these ideas to create two different media plans that still occur largely at the same time.

If you are an event planner, you long-term goal should be to build your brand compared to the competition and keep your event continuously top of mind so that when people do decide which events to attend later, they will be more likely to choose yours. And again, that comes from broad reach among all potential category buyers using appeals to emotion.

Then, your short-term goal should be to sell tickets when the time is appropriate. And that comes from narrow targeting and appeals to logic. The two tactics support each other. And according to Binet and Field, your spend should be roughly 60% to brand and 40% to activation. (Though every specific industry is different.)

But, how do you do that in practice? Here is how to approach scheduling your ads. Obviously, you could spend all your money in one month, spread it out evenly over the year, or something in the middle.

Here’s an example from the golf club advertising research again. It naturally follows the seasons. The peak in spending is between March and June as the weather turns warm and golfers start to think about the clubs they will use when golf courses open for business.

But also note that money is spent throughout the year, even in winter. This reflects the need to maintain awareness among golfers on warm-weather vacations. The continuation of advertising through December suggests advertising to support the purchase of golf clubs as a gift for the holidays.

Because here are the three main types of ad scheduling: continuity, flighting, and pulsing.

Brands like Coca-Cola use continuity because purchases are level throughout the year. Companies that have strictly seasonal purchases might want to use flighting. And pulsing is a combination of the two — where it is important to maintain general awareness but to push harder during peak buying seasons.

Now, I recommend a pulsing pattern for events specifically.

You should run the 60% of your brand advertising spend continuously throughout the year. You want to use emotional triggers to keep your event top of mind and stuck in peoples’ mind so that they are always aware that you exist and that you should be considered in the future. Then, you should run the 40% of your direct response advertising at specific times.

For example, say you do B2B events. You might want to run direct response in the late autumn or winter when companies are deciding how to allocate their budgets if you are seeking pre-registration deals. You should then do a similar push when you start selling tickets. And you might also do it for a final push before tickets are sold. But remember that it is the brand advertising that supports your brand emotionally in advance before people decide to purchase in the future. The brand advertising at the top of the funnel supports the direct response at the bottom of the funnel.

Now, I have discussed a broad, general approach to media planning in terms of all of the mediums that we can use or not use today. For more information, I recommend that you read these resources on ad planning, strategy, positioning, and media effectiveness.

In today’s business environment, smart planning is more important than ever. I wish you all the best of luck in your event planning jobs. In my job as a keynote marketing speaker, I see the tough jobs that you do — and I have all the respect.

Ladies and gentlemen, please stay safe and healthy. Thank you.

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